Arts

Film 'Belle' Probes Race and Gender in 18th Century

Friday, May 2, 2014

Another truth-based narrative opening May 2 is "Decoding Annie Parker," about how a breast cancer patient and her doctor strive to prove that the deadly disease has a genetic component. For comic relief there's "Walk of Shame," loaded with plot hijinks.

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Belle
Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in "Belle."

Credit: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

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(WOMENSENEWS)-- Among notable film openings today, May 2, don't miss "Belle." This is the truth-based story of a half-black girl brought up as a wealthy member of the 18th century English aristocracy who cannot enjoy the privileges of her station because of her gender and mixed blood. Filmmaker Amma Assante deftly raises consideration of gender and race-related issues in the guise of a lavish, beautifully produced Austenian romance. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is exquisite as Belle.

In ""Decoding Annie Parker," another truth-based narrative, a breast cancer patient and her doctor strive to prove that the deadly disease has a genetic component. Their persistence eventually leads to the breakthrough discovery of the gene BRCA1. Sensitively directed by Stephen Bernstein, the film delivers an emotion-loaded story that is beautifully brought to life by Samantha Morton as Anne Parker and Helen Hunt as Marie-Claire King, the geneticist whose research and persistence were key to the discovery.

"Walk of Shame" provides comic relief, as wannabe TV news anchor Meghan Miles (Elizabeth Banks) comes up against one obstacle after another in trying to get across Los Angeles to audition for her dream job. Banks' angst gives the unlikely, often outrageous, obstacles some credibility, but bear in mind that if the lead character were not a woman, the plot hijinks wouldn't work at all.

"Beneath the Harvest Sky" is about two teenage boys whose plans to escape their rural Maine town and experience the wide world's greater opportunities lead to circumstances that seriously test their friendship and force them to make life-shaping decisions. The story is engaging, the performances are full and appealing and the film is beautifully crafted. All in all, this is a captivating first feature for Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet.

Opening May 9

"Palo Alto," Gia Coppola's first feature, is a cinematic rendition of James Franco's eponymous short story collection. The film, scripted by Coppola, brings together several coming-of-age adventures within the geographic confines of the privileged California community. April, a shy girl (Emma Roberts), is being hit on by her older soccer coach (Franco) while she tries to cope with her secret crush on the school stoner (Jack Kilmer), who's constantly getting into trouble with his best friend (Nat Wolf), and promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin) is part of the mix. Coppola's cinema lineage gives her a lot to live up to, and this film still begs the question about how well she'll do in the long run.

"Fed Up" is filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig and news anchor Katie Couric's timely expose about the prevalence of sugar in our diets and its negative effects on our health. The documentary shows that sugar, the primary cause of diabetes in both children and adults, is an additive in most prepared foods. The bottom line is that current food consumption habits will cause today's children to have an average lifespan that's five years shorter than that of their parents, and one that is burdened with all sorts of ill health. Seeing this well-made film is essential for your well-being.

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" is an animated sequel-come-lately to the classic "Wizard of Oz." Escaping tornado-devastated Kansas, Dorothy returns to Oz to save the Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man and others from a new nemesis. Fans of the original may find it a fun extension of the Dorothy legend, others may be disappointed. Kids will undoubtedly be fans -- but make sure they see and appreciate the original as well.

"Moms' Night Out" is a you-know-how-it-is comedy about devoted housewives who need a break and, in order to get one, must convince their rather spoiled and unsympathetic spouses to take care of the kids while they don high heels for a night on the town. The issues are certainly familiar, the strategies stretch the relationships in amusing ways, the denouement is appealingly unpredictable. "Mom's Night Out" is worth a night out of your own.

"Stage Fright," a girl-centric horror flick, is Jerome Sable's fan-pleasing genre riff with references aplenty to horror classics. It's set in a summer theater camp where the director (Meat Loaf) is staging "Haunting of the Opera." The film's scare-a-minute plot centers around Camilla (Allie MacDonald), a girl who emulates her actress mom (Minnie Driver), who starred in the musical's original production and was murdered on opening night. Don't ask for more details. Just go and scream.

May 16 Openers

"The Immigrant," James Gray's compelling 1920s period drama has compelling feminist overtones. Marion Cotillard stars as Ewa, a Polish woman who arrives in New York with her sister, who has become ill during their voyage and is sent into quarantine to await deportation. To save her, Ewa attaches herself to an unscrupulous man (Joaquin Phoenix) who forces her to perform in his disreputable burlesque show. The film follows Ewa's attempts to defy male manipulations, find a way out of her troubles and rescue her sister. Cotillard is magnificent, as always.

May 23 Films

"We Are the Best," Lukas Moodysson's appealing coming-of-age drama, centers around three teenage girls in 1980s Stockholm who decide to exert their gender equality by forming a punk band. In the process they displace the male band that dominates the music scene at their school and community youth center. Moodysson's work is impressively sensitive and presents female teenage rebellion in an appealing constructive way. The three lead characters in the film -- and the young actresses who play them -- are wonderfully brave, loyal and persistent in realizing their goals.

"Tracks" is the truth-based tale of Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), a 27-year-old woman who trekked across the Australian outback, some 2,000 miles of unforgiving desert terrain, accompanied by only four willful camels and a faithful dog. Davidson's life-changing journey was an astonishing accomplishment. The film, directed by John Curran and scripted by Marion Nelson based on Davidson's book, is a thrilling adventure. A must-see.

Opening May 30

"Night Moves," Kelly Reichart's latest film, is an action thriller in which three determined eco-terrorists (Jessie Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard) conspire to blow up a hydroelectric dam in the Pacific Northwest. The plot-heavy narrative sets the stage for consideration of environmental concerns, effective activism and personal commitment, but doesn't dig deeply into issues. Nevertheless, it's beautifully shot and succeeds as an interesting and engaging character study.

"Maleficent" is a come-lately spin off of "Sleeping Beauty," the 1959 Disney classic. Scripted by Linda Woolverton, the fantasy is star-studded (Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Imelda Staunton and Miranda Richardson, among others), spectacle-filled and action-packed. A good Saturday matinee for the family, if perhaps a bit scary for little kids.

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